Nigeria infant drug toll hits 34, antidote flown in

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ABUJA (Reuters), Dec 3 - Nigeria is flying in doses of antidote for hospitals after the number of infants killed by teething syrup tainted with a poisonous chemical rose to 34, health officials said on Wednesday.

Five more children have died on top of 28 reported to have lost their lives last month in three locations after being given "My Pikin" teething syrup contaminated with diethylene glycol, blamed for causing kidney failure.

A 14-month-old infant died after taking the teething medicine on November 2, but the death was initially unreported.

"The children still died in spite of dialysis treatment because the kidneys were already damaged," the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) said.

The agency said it hoped to take delivery of some 100 doses of antidote from London on Thursday.

The agency said it had so far retrieved 425 bottles of "My Pikin" syrup from the market and arrested a number of people involved in the distribution of the contaminating chemical.

More than 40 children between age 4 months and 3 years have been hospitalised since the first case was discovered on November 3 with symptoms including diarrhoea, vomiting, fever and convulsions as well as an inability to pass urine for days.

Health officials believe the number of cases could be higher as many parents in Africa's most populous country do not have access to basic health care for their children.

NAFDAC started testing more children's drugs last week for fear that different brands of cough and teething medicine may also have been contaminated with the toxic chemical.

It has shut down Lagos-based Barewa Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of "My Pikin", as well as a company called Tranxell Ltd, an un-registered firm that supplied chemicals to Barewa and other local drugs and textile manufacturers.

No officials from either company have been available to comment on the case.

Tainted, fake and counterfeit drugs have long been a problem in Africa's most populous nation, although NAFDAC has been spearheading a crackdown.

In 1990, 109 children in Ibadan and in the central city of Jos died after taking paracetamol syrup which contained ethylene glycol solvent, a compound related to diethylene glycol which is also normally used in engine coolant.

By Camillus Eboh

Last Updated: 2008-12-03 9:01:56 -0400 (Reuters Health)

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